UPDATED FOR 2020
You’re in meltdown.
You’ve come to the conclusion that you’ve been involved with a sociopath, and that everything this person told you was a lie, from the details of his or her life to the proclamations of undying love.
Now it all makes sense. Now you understand how the unbelievable headiness of the whirlwind romance (love bombing) morphed into the silent treatment, unexplained absences and unprovoked rages (devalue and discard).
You have discovered the truth: The person you fell in love with never existed. Everything you saw and experienced was an act designed to exploit you.
You are crushed. Overwhelmed by disappointment and betrayal, the emotional pain is almost unbearable. So you ask, when will this go away?
How long does it take to recover?
The short answer is that it will take as long as it takes. But the important answer is that you don’t have to wait until you are fully recovered before you can live your life.
In fact, living your life helps you recover.
The two-track plan
This isn’t going to be like taking a course, where you attend for a specific length of time and then get your diploma.
It’s also not like going to a doctor when you’re physically ill. You don’t take a pill for a few weeks or months and then feel better.
Recovery from the sociopath is a two-track plan. It is about emotional recovery, and rebuilding your life. The good news is that you can, and should, work on both tracks at the same time. In fact, progress on one track will help you move along the other track.
Your crucial first step is consciously deciding that you’re going to do what you need to in order to recover.
At first you may not want to. You may be tempted to sweep everything that happened under the rug, assuming that time heals all ills and sooner or later you’ll feel better. That’s possible, but it will take longer than if you do the personal work to recover.
Or, you may skip the work and think you’re feeling better, until something comes along like a new relationship — and all the buried pain rises to the surface. It may even sabotage your new chance at happiness.
Here’s another reason to decide to do the work: If you don’t fully recover from the pain inflicted by a sociopath, you are susceptible to falling for another sociopath. Embracing recovery can make a difference for the rest of your life.
So, back to the meltdown.
When it comes to your emotional recovery from the sociopathic betrayal, crying is good. Wailing is good. Curling up in a ball on the floor is good. Pounding a punching bag to release your anger is good. Any means of expression that naturally arises is good, as long as it is not destructive to you, other people, your pets or property.
The idea is to get the negative emotional energy out of your system.
Now, this is not pretty. Your friends and family most likely will not have the ability to be around you as you process your emotions. It is simply too distressing for other people, and they will want you to stop. But that’s not your objective. Your objective is to allow yourself to cry and wail until you feel a release.
Therefore, I recommend doing the processing alone. Even if you have a therapist, you may want to save your appointments for talking about what happened and gaining insight. But keep in mind that you can’t talk away your feelings. Even if you understand why you feel the way you do, you still need to process the emotions.
Drilling for oil
This process is like drilling for oil. You’ll hit a pool of pain, and the black goo will rise to the surface. You do some more drilling, and you’ll hit another pool, which will spout forth. The idea is to keep going until you drain all the black gooey pools of negative energy. Depending on how long you’ve been exposed to the sociopath, you may have many of them, so this can take awhile.
Eventually you’ll discover that one of the black pools is linked to some other experience or belief from earlier in your life one that made you vulnerable to the sociopath in the first place. Finding this is the equivalent of finding a gusher.
This is your objective — discovering and releasing the hidden pain that has skewed your perceptions and created a place within you for the sociopath to set his or her hooks. Addressing this issue whatever it is changes everything.
Draining off the pain creates voids within you, holes where the pain used to be. What do you do with them? You fill them with anything that brings you joy.
While you’re in meltdown, this may seem totally bogus. How can you possibly think about joy when your life is falling off a cliff? At least, that was my reaction when I received this advice. Everything was crumbling, and I’m supposed to do something to make me happy?
Well, guess what. It works. Any small activity that brings you an internal smile will do playing with your pets, going for a walk, enjoying a sunset. Filling those voids with little pieces of joy and happiness eventually changes your entire internal structure. Instead of pools of black gooey pain inside, you’ll feel a growing sense of peace.
Living your life
The second track of recovery, as I said, is living your life. Part of this is dealing with the practical and logistical problems created by the sociopath, such as money, your job, your home or your children.
These can, of course, be really big problems, and I don’t want to downplay them. The important point here is that because you’re following two tracks, you don’t need to solve all of these problems before beginning your emotional recovery. You work both tracks at once.
Again, as you resolve these issues, it’s important to rebuild other areas of your life at the same time. Reconnect with old friends that the sociopath pushed out of your life. Go back to activities that the sociopath made difficult or impossible — art, music, gardening, watching old movies, whatever you enjoyed. Or, start new activities.
Be sure to take care of your health. Eat right, avoid drugs and excessive alcohol, and get exercise. In fact, exercise can go a long way towards relieving depression and anxiety. It’s sometimes as effective as medication.
Living is recovery
Your recovery will likely seem uneven — two steps forward and one step back. But even halting progress is progress. By putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll keep moving down the tracks both of them.
Life brings opportunities. Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to make new friends, or get a new job, or move to a new community. If the opportunity feels right, be open to it. You never know where it could lead you.
Living your life the way you want to is recovery.